The name of the dish is a puzzle, but Philippine history provides a couple of clues.
Bistek could be an adaptation of American beef steak or the Spanish bistec. Either is possible because the Philippines was a Spanish colony for more than 375 years and an American possession for more than four decades.
The presentation of bistek Tagalog and how it is prepared point to Spanish origin. Thin slices of a tender cut of beef are marinated and then cooked like the Spanish bistec encebollado.
There is more than one way to cook Filipino bistek. When using a tender cut of beef like sirloin, the best cooking method is to fry quickly just until the beef changes color. It's the surest way to prevent the meat from becoming dry and leathery.
It is also possible to cook bistek using stewing cuts like brisket. Just slice the meat thinly and simmer in the marinade, occasionally adding water until tender.
Although garlic is not a traditional ingredient of bistek, the spice adds depth of flavor and tempting aroma.
The amount of citrus juice in the ingredients list is approximate because calamondins (spicy oranges of the Philippines), limes and lemons have varying degrees of acidity.
- 1 pound beef sirloin (top round, bottom round or rib-eye)
- 1/4 cup calamondin juice (or lime or lemon juice; more or less)
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce (or more as needed)
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic (minced)
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 cup onion (thinly sliced)
- Optional: 2 tablespoons scallions (snipped, to garnish)
- Slice the beef thinly; about 1/8-inch thick or less is ideal.
- Place the beef in a shallow bowl.
- Pour in the calamondin, lime or lemon juice, and soy sauce.
- Add the black pepper and minced garlic.
- Mix thoroughly but gently so you do not tear the meat. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
- Drain the beef and reserve the marinade.
- Heat the cooking oil in a frying pan.
- Fry the onion slices just until softened, remove from the pan and set aside.
- Add the drained beef when the oil reaches its smoking point, spreading the slices to cover the bottom of the pan. Cook just until the underside changes color and then flip the meat over.
- Add the reserved marinade to the pan. The water that the meat will expel during cooking and the marinade will form the sauce for the dish.
- Cook the meat in the marinade, and when it is no longer pink, scatter the sliced onions on top. Cover the pan and let it cook for about 5 minutes more or until cooked to the desired doneness.
- Sprinkle snipped scallions over the cooked bistek before serving, if desired.